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US gives full approval to GM alfalfa

USDA’s decision today to fully approve Roundup Ready alfalfa without conditions was met with immediate praise from the US National Council of Farmer Cooperatives and BIO.

NCFC president Chuck Conner said, “In deregulating RRA without conditions, USDA has upheld the integrity of regulatory process for biotechnology crops that has existed since the adoption of the Coordinated Framework for Regulation of Biotechnology in 1986.” Conner, who was USDA’s Deputy Secretary during the Bush Administration, called Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack’s decision “a victory.”

A statement from NCFC noted “the approval comes just over a month after APHIS issued its environmental impact statement (EIS) concluding that RRA posed no risk under the Plant Protection Act. The EIS was prepared in accordance with a 2007 order issued by the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, which found procedural problems with APHIS’s initial deregulation of RRA.”

The USDA decision on biotech alfalfa had been closely watched because the final EIS included an option that would have required several conditions for planting biotech varieties – an option that quickly became known as “co-existence.” That option was opposed by those who wanted a science-based decision that recognized the safety of Roundup Ready, but it was supported by organic growers who feared contamination from stray genetically engineered pollen.

Jim Greenwood, president and chief executive officer of the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO), said in a statement on Jan. 27, “Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack’s decision is based on sound science and two decades of regulatory precedent…This action also supports President Obama’s pledge to support science-based decision-making and to steer away from policies that create barriers to economic growth.”

Roundup Ready alfalfa was developed by Monsanto and Forage Genetics International (FGI). The USDA decision comes in time for spring planting, Monsanto noted. Monsanto, FGI and other alfalfa seed companies have varieties of Genuity Roundup Ready alfalfa seed in stock and ready for sale.

Roundup Ready alfalfa was commercialized in 2005. More than 5000 farmers had planted Roundup Ready alfalfa on over 250,000 acres before a court ruling regarding USDA’s administrative process halted further sales and planting. Today’s announcement authorises resumption of the sale and planting of Monsanto’s Roundup Ready alfalfa.

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